Tanair Gaines

BooksRevolutionaryWe See You

how reading brought about my personal revolution

November 22, 2019
108 Picks

They say people who are horrible at math are usually good at reading. Or maybe that’s just my excuse. But for as long as I can remember, I’ve always taken an interest in books. It began with children’s stories, followed by “hood novels,” (My first-ever was Omar Tyree’s FlyyGirl), and then college happened. I was an English major taking electives like Black Studies and Black Feminism. As you would assume, Patricia Hill Collins’s “Black Feminist Thought” is a long ways away from the chapter worth of Black history we’re taught in grade school textbooks.

I honestly can’t remember learning much about Black History growing up outside of the tidbits about prominent figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and his nonviolent approach to the Civil Rights Movement, the controversy surrounding Malcolm X’s activism, Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, Rosa Parks’s bus boycott, and slavery. It took the release of Ava DuVernay’s 13th documentary to remind me that there’s so much more to our story than what educators are actually teaching, and a lot of the information requires a deeper dive.

To be 28, and hear “Slavery still exists” as part of the 13th amendment was triggering. I’ve grown up on the narrative that it was abolished in 1865 so the “except” that comes when revisiting the constitution blew my mind, and left me wondering what other information was hiding in plain sight. 13th kicked off a personal journey of discovery. Days after watching Ava’s documentary, I went to a theater to see Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation, and again, here was a piece of my history I had heard little to nothing about. I left the theater full of shock and rage, and ready for more.

A friend suggested I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and described the book as “life-changing.” It really is. There was so much to his upbringing that was left out of those short school lessons. I can’t recall ever hearing about his parents, the Black Muslims or Elijah Muhummad’s influence. It’s alarming to look back at my childhood and know that not only were these conversations surrounding Black history and our leaders not happening in classrooms, but they also weren’t taking place at home.

Inspired, I created a book club called By Any Reads. It’s the direct result of me learning new information about my history as an adult, and wanting to spark that same journey in others. Reading has provided me with a stronger understanding of current events and the ability to recognize historical patterns when it comes to how we’re treated today. It’s become the safe space that many of us have never had where we can openly engage in a dialogue on books and current events in an enriching way.

I’d call the past three years an eye-opener and also revolutionary. The best part about this journey has been my ability to put the younger generation on to information I’ve learned way too late—arming them with books and narratives that are often left out of the lesson plans and not talked about around dinner tables. The honest conversations with friends and family about books and our history have been rewarding, and have often had a domino effect. Many of us have gone from reading about our ancestors’ past struggles with Civil Rights and Jim Crow to picking up books focused on financial literacy and learning more about wealth and legacy building.

It’s been time for our narrative to change.

Danitha Jones works in marketing and advertising as a freelance social strategist and community manager. Follow By Any Reads on Instagram.

A By Any Reads recommended reading list: